Social Impact: Families of Joy – Avinash Kumar, PGP 1994

Families of Joy Foundation is an NGO set up in New Delhi, which promotes and creates awareness about adoption. Avinash Kumar and his wife Dr. Vandana Kumar have been tirelessly working on increasing awareness on adoption through their foundation. Their foundation offers a platform to positively introduce the subject and debunk myths people have about adoption.

The mantra of Families of Joy is – Reimagining Adoption and I think it is befitting of the extraordinary work they have been doing. We reached out to Avinash to get his insight on the relevance of adoption, challenges, role of Gen Y and the journey so far.

Why is adoption important and how is it relevant in today’s society.

There are more than 60 million destitute children but there are fewer than 4000 adoptions per year in India. The ratio is akin to just 1 life saved out of 7 titanic ocean liners! In comparison, USA has roughly one-fourth of the population of India, but clocks over 135,000 adoptions per year. If we care about the children, our country’s most prized asset, we have to take concrete steps to provide a home to each child in need.

There are very few government schemes and law enforcement for destitute children, possibly because they are not a lucrative vote bank. But adoption is a seamless and most effective method of integrating one of the most vulnerable sections of our society – infant, young and hapless children without a voice – into the mainstream. Much better than reservations, subsidies or charities! We look at adoption as the true Nation Building tool.

Adoption is also relevant because no other form of support such as sponsoring a child, child care institutions or even fostering can substitute the love and security offered by a family. Adoption is about restoring the right to a secure childhood under the aegis of parents, siblings, and family, that each child deserves.

What does your foundation – Families of Joy do? And how is it helping?

In our own journey in adoption, we realized that there were primarily two platforms discussing adoption. One was informal support groups and social media groups of parents in adoption seeking resolutions to challenges faced by them, and the other was the government organizations delivering adoption through orphanages, social workers, lawyers, and courts. There was no bridge between them. More importantly, there was no platform engaging larger civic society that influences how we relate to adoption. Educators, Regulators, Employers, Gen X, Corporates, Writers, Film Makers, Poets, etc. seem to be oblivious of realities of adoption.  They either furthered the stereotypes on adoption carried by film and fiction or turned to Babas, IVF Clinics or Touts if accosted by it.  There were very few authentic resources on adoption. Very few public conversations. Very few debates. Very few policies.

This is when we decided to create a platform to talk openly, positively and inclusively on adoption, engaging all members of the society, and not just families in adoption.

When a child is adopted and steps in the real world, she comes into contact with a teacher who does not know how to react when she announces that she was adopted. She gets bullied at school because her classmates have not been told about differently built families. She is deprived of fatherly affection because her father’s employer would not give adoption leave, and her pediatrician routinely asks her mother if her delivery was cesarean or not – unmindful that children join families through adoption too!

That is how our NGO – Families of Joy Foundation was born, in 2016. We spread awareness on adoption at schools, colleges, workplaces, associations like Lion’s Club, Rotary, armed forces, residential societies, etc – and any uninitiated community. We underscore why is it important to discuss openly and positively about adoption. Also, we aspire to #ReimagineAdoption from a child’s perspective. Our endeavor is to delink adoption from childlessness. We are influencing lawmakers to frame child-centric policies.

We train communities on Positive Adoption Language, offer internship to young students from colleges, publish quarterly statistics on adoption, offer counseling to families, maintain a pan-country repository of families in adoption, offer certification courses on adoption counseling and create short films & posters on adoption.

In the last four years, we have counseled over 500 families, conducted counseling camps across India, expanded our network on counselors to over six metros in India, conducted awareness sessions in key metros, partnered with Times group in their national campaigns and given interviews on TV and Radio.

We have been successful in generating some awareness on the subject and are often featured in media reports. We are also consulted by Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) – the nodal agency that regulates adoption in India on policies related to adoption.

On the left-hand side: Dr.Vandana Kumar

What are the challenges you face in increasing awareness around the subject of adoption?

The biggest challenge we face when engaging with communities is that most people carry a mindset – “What do we have to do with adoption?” Quite often, people jump to the conclusion that we are urging people to adopt a child. Whereas, our attempt is to seek their contribution and participation in enabling adoption as a positive identity for the child. As a result, most people do not even offer an opportunity to start a conversation. They think adoption needs to be discussed only within families seeking to adopt, and anyone else has no role.

The second biggest challenge is reaching and discovering the families wanting to adopt. Lack of awareness often results in families being misguided, making inappropriate choices, being misled by middlemen, challenges related to paperwork and post-adoption trauma. We are unable to reach this target audience, as most of them do not highlight their status of “seeking adoption” in their social or public profiles. While we conduct counseling camps for these families, very few families are able to benefit from the same, due to lack of awareness. Being an NGO with limited funds, we are unable to spend on advertising so that families in adoption can get to know of resources and services we offer – that they could benefit from.

The third challenge is a high parent centric towards adoption in India. Most laws and procedures are influenced by the need of a childless couple to adopt a child. This doctrine of need has foreclosed all doors for any child-centric conversation on adoption. For example, India has two distinct and divergent laws on adoption. The loopholes therein are responsible for rampant child trafficking and adoption rackets. When our NGO filed a PIL in Supreme Court to plug those gaps, the judge observed that parents want to adopt a child for their last rites, and they saw nothing wrong in the law that carried loopholes! Sadly, they failed to see the impact trafficking has on the child and were happy that parents were getting children, howsoever!

Any ask of alums? How can alums help?

There are 3 ways Alums can help, in order of priority:

  1. Sponsoring our Counselling Camps – Awareness and counseling are key to successful adoptions. We routinely conduct counseling camps across cities in India. But our reach with families in adoption is limited because most families do not get to know of these camps – as we announce these camps through our website, social media, and word of mouth. An ad in the newspaper can help many more families getting to know of such events, attend and benefit from the same. If we can get corporate sponsorships for these camps, we can scale up very effectively. Each camp can cost about 3-5 L in a tier 2 city, depending upon ad expense. Plus travel expenses of our counselors. We can brand the Camp as per Corporate sponsoring the event.
  2. Hold Awareness session – We routinely conduct talk shows and seminars on adoption, busting the myths, offering advice on the legal process, sharing resources on adoption, etc. If alums can give us 1-2 hr talk spots on adoption in their workplaces, their workforce, which largely comprises of Gen Y can start #ReimaginingAdoption, sans prejudice. Holding awareness sessions does not cost much money. Only travel expense from major metros needs to be provided for, as we have our Counsellors in all major metros, in India.
  3. Follow Us on Social Media – We routinely conduct surveys, opinion polls and run online campaigns. If the Alums can follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, they can socialize and participate in our campaigns, thereby spreading the word. We are aspiring to grow our network of counselors to major State capitals and Tier 2 cities, and socializing our industry can help grow our community, who can, in turn, benefit thousand of parents, and millions of children. This costs nothing.

Any suggestions or advice for younger alums for taking up roles in non-profit organizations.

We already offer internships to students. Younger Alums can participate through research, networking, fundraising and content creation in supporting a niche NGO like ours.

We thank Avinash, for the admirable work that he has been doing and sharing his views with us. I am sure the alum family will join hands with you in the cause.

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